For the second time in as many months, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration used water cannons to evict protesters and “restore social order,” as police removed thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators from Zhongxiao W Road in Taipei yesterday morning.
The protesters were calling not only for the halt of construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) — supported by more than 70 percent of the public according to most opinion polls — but for nuclear energy to be phased out completely.
These protesters were inspired by former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Lin I-hsiung’s (林義雄) indefinite hunger strike. Citing inconvenience to ordinary citizens and the need for social order, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) ordered police to remove the demonstrators “at all costs.”
Hau’s orders were no different to those of Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), who ordered a brutal crackdown on protesters who occupied the Executive Yuan on March 23 that injured dozens of people. While the protesters who briefly broke into the main building were arrested not long after the siege and most people only staged a peaceful sit-in, Jiang said that they could have paralyzed the operations of the highest-governing body of the country, so they had to be removed.
Reporters were also beaten and evicted by the police at both protest sites. The reasons cited by officials appear to have ignored the definition of civil resistance, loosely defined as political action that relies on the use of nonviolent resistance to challenge a particular power, force, policy or regime.
Meanwhile, the government’s actions have violated the principle of proportionality and infringed upon the freedom of the press.
In Ma’s second term, protests against a range of issues reflecting his administration’s governance and unconstitutional actions have been staged regularly.
Each time the administration sought to respond to the protests, against illegal land grabs and development projects increases in electricity and fuel prices, low wages and poor working conditions, the death of an army corporal and a fisherman shot dead by Philippine Coast Guard Personnel, the attempt to push a cross-strait trade pact through the legislature and the nuclear power plant, it found that it was unable to tame the public’s rage.
The root cause of the political stalemate between the government and the people is Ma’s lack of credibility.
According to Taiwan Indicators Survey Research, Ma’s approval rating has gone from about 55 percent in 2008 to 30 percent in early 2012, when he was re-elected, to about 16 percent now.
This loss of credibility did not happen overnight. It is the result of numerous broken promises, senseless responses from the president and premier and a host of ill-advised policies.
It has resulted in direct opposition by the public.The administration has responded by trying to force through its agenda, including colluding with former prosecutor-general Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) to remove Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), evading legislative supervision of the service trade pact, distorting facts and consolidating its power base in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
On Sunday, Ma showed again that he is prepared to bypass the constitutional mechanism by announcing the government’s latest policy on the nuclear plant after a meeting with Jiang, the Atomic Energy Council minister and 15 KMT mayors and commissioners.
Jiang then held a press conference yesterday, saying that the referendum threshold in Taiwan is lower than the majority of the European countries.
While social order has to be maintained, it is not a good enough reason to suppress protesters, let alone to treat them with out-of-proportion violence.
If Ma is looking for a “harmonious society,” the first step must be to restore constitutional order and his credibility; a quick-fix will not suffice.
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